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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stephane Dujarric, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Today, the UN Deputy Special Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan, Toby Lanzer, is in Herat following yesterday’s attack at a mosque.  He just told us that the UN mission in the country has allocated $35,000 from the Common Humanitarian Fund to the regional hospital in Herat to help with trauma care following the attack.  According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the attack killed at least 31 civilians, including 2 children, and injured more than 60 people.

You will have seen that last night, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General condemned the attack and expressed support for the Government and people of Afghanistan.  For his part, the head of the Mission, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said that “fanning terror and sectarian violence against a specific community is abhorrent and those responsible must be brought to account”.  The attack in Herat is the fifth attack this year targeting Shia mosques, killing a total of at least 44 civilians and injuring at least 88 people.


Just to update you on the activities of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, he arrived today in Oman today and had a positive and constructive meeting with Foreign Minister Yusuf Ben Alawi.  The Special Envoy said that, during the meeting, Oman renewed its support to UN peace efforts.  Today’s meeting in Oman is one of several he will hold in the region this week and next week to reactivate the peace process and put an end to the catastrophic situation in the country.

**Central African Republic

Our colleagues at the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) tell us that they started an operation this week to remove armed fighters from Bangassou.  As you know, Bangassou was the epicentre of interethnic violence during the last couple of weeks, which resulted in the displacement of over 2,000 civilians and the killing of three UN peacekeepers.  The UN Mission has deployed temporary operating bases at strategic locations in the town and is conducting robust patrols to re‑establish security and create a safe environment for internally displaced persons to return to their homes.  The Mission had also reinforced its presence in Bangassou last week with troops from Bangladesh and Gabon.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Head of the Peacekeeping Mission in that country, Maman Sidikou, expressed his concern over arbitrary arrests and detentions in different parts of the country.  He said these followed peaceful civil society mobilization to protest delays in the publication of the electoral calendar and to call for the holding of elections before the end of the year.  On 31 July, the UN documented over 120 arrests or detentions in Kinshasa, Goma, Lubumbashi, Beni, Butembo, Bukavu and Mbandaka.  Among those detained were eight media representatives, including a journalist from radio Okapi and two members of the international press, who were released following the UN Mission’s intervention.

Mr. Sidikou also expressed concern over the restrictions imposed on peaceful assembly.  He called on the national and local authorities to fully uphold fundamental rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Constitution of the country, as well as for all political actors to refrain from any statement or action that could heighten tensions and further polarize the political landscape.

**Security Council

Back here, the Security Council is holding an open meeting this morning on preventing terrorists from acquiring weapons.  Jehangir Khan, the Officer-in-Charge of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, told Council members that the specter of terrorists acquiring lethal technologies and new weapons, poses a serious threat to international peace and security.  He welcomed the adoption of today’s resolution on preventing terrorists from acquiring weapons, noting that the initiative goes to the heart of the Secretary-General’s efforts to make prevention the UN’s core mission.

Also speaking at the meeting was Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  He added that preventing weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists thus presents complex challenges, requiring integrated, multifaceted criminal justice responses, pointing to the work that his Office does in promoting the implementation of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

**Honour Roll

We are very pleased to welcome two more Member States to the Honour Roll, as Guinea-Bissau and Namibia have both paid to the regular budget in full, bringing us to a total of 118.  That’s it for me.  Mr. Lee.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks for the, I guess, the numbers on DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo].  I wanted to ask you about another report from there which is that the press there is reporting that the Gregory Starr report into the death of the experts, Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp, exonerates the Government.  That’s what the media in the DRC is saying, is the report finished?

Spokesman:  The report is still in its final stages of being finished.  I think anybody who claims to know the conclusions of the report is speaking on, not based on any knowledge or facts.

Question:  Sure.  Well, I mean Gregory Starr presumably would know?

Spokesman:  I'm saying in any press reports to that effect.

Question:  What is going to be the logistics and the timing of actually people, because, given the interest in this in of knowing of the report being made public or a summary being made public?

Spokesman:  I think there will be some type of executive summary that will be made public.  After 17 years in this Organization, I try not to be too tied down by timeframes, but we do expect it either this week or next week.

Question:  And do you think that one or more of the authors could…?

Spokesman:  I wish I could predict that.  Ben.

Question:  Hi, I wonder if you have anything on the Bloomberg report of the UN paying over $18 million to various Syrian concerns linked to Assad?

Spokesman:  We’ve seen these stories come out a number of times.  I think what needs to be understood is the context in which we operate in Syria, and frankly in every country.  We purchase goods locally, right, whether that be fuel, phone services, office services.  We can only purchase them locally and we have to operate in the market that is there, and in some countries, the market is completely limited and in others it's fairly limited.  But, the purchasing of these goods and services goes through a procurement process which is the same everywhere and we operate in the places that… we operate in the market that is dictated to us.  We can't, if you're going to procure fuel in one place, you can't have it imported from another country, so you need to procure locally, and that's what we do, that's what we do in Syria.  All the contracts and contracting goes through the same bidding process, same bidding requirements that we go through anywhere.  And we go through the due diligence that we need to for every company.

Question:  What about giving money to or awarding money to a charity of the wife of Bashar al‑Assad?

Spokesman:  I think you are referring to the Syrian Trust for Development.  My understanding it's 1 of 10 national partners that our humanitarian colleagues work for, like all other partners, the Syria Trust for Development applied for and was subsequently granted funding based on its technical expertise, the merit of their proposed project and delivering life‑saving assistance to people in need as assessed by our humanitarian colleagues and the humanitarian coordinator.  It was fully vetted and it is… any of our humanitarian partners is expected to deliver on what it says is being delivered and the work is monitored like anywhere, for any other partner.

Question:  How do you get around US blacklists, are you talking about…?

Spokesman:  As a matter of principle, the UN only operates… can only operate following people who are listed on UN sanctions.  Many countries have different entities or people that they may place on sanctions lists.  We have to abide by those that are by UN sanctions lists as put forward by the Security Council.  It's not an issue of a problem or not a problem.  It's an issue of operating in a very specific environment, of us trying to meet the dire humanitarian needs of the Syrian people and us working with local partners who are expected to live up to the same standards of delivery and efficiency as anyone else.  Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Speaking about sanctions, the Security Council, as you know, has imposed sanctions on several States during the past few years and individual States are continuing to impose sanctions on individual States.  Does the Secretary‑General believe that this is the result of failure of diplomacy?

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, sanctions are a last resort, but they are a tool in the diplomatic… in the diplomatic arsenal.  I think, as a matter of principle, we would like to see conflicts and issues resolved before resorting to sanctions, but they are within the purview of the Security Council.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure, I wanted to, given particularly the Secretary‑General's interest in issues of migration and refugees, there has been a vote in the Italian Parliament to approve the deployment of the navy to participate with the Libyan Coast Guard and essentially just physically block people from going.  And so, given… I guess I just wondered, does he have any response?  I know it's a… you know, of the range of EU approaches, this is one of the more aggressive.  Does he think it's a good idea to be sending your navy to stop people from trying to migrate to your country?

Spokesman:  I don't have anything on that.  I will, I need to take a look at the report a little closer before commenting.

Question:  Okay, and I wanted to ask you again about Kenya.  I wanted… I guess stand corrected, I'd asked you whether the UN had been silent on the murder of Mr. Msando and the UNIC [United Nations Information Center] there made it very clear they have put out a statement, but given that the UN statement, apparently the most recent one, still calls it a sudden demise and given that the autopsy has shown that he was both tortured and murdered and the EU has called for an investigation, is the UN wanting there to be an investigation?

Spokesman:  Of course, of course, there should be an investigation.  I think anyone who is found murdered deserves to have an investigation into the killings.  I think in this particular instance, given the political climate in Kenya and given the upcoming elections, it's obviously extremely important that, following what has clearly been the murder of a senior member of the electoral commission, that that be investigated and the perpetrators be brought to justice.

Question:  When they called it a sudden demise, they didn't yet know it was a murder?

Spokesman:  Listen, I think, you’re, as I said, the UNIC is obviously in contact with you.  You are free to call.

Correspondent:  They tweeted.

Spokesman:  No, you know their numbers are public.  You can go and ask them directly.  You don't need me to be sandwiched between you and them.  And I did, I think you had asked about the UN's role, and… and UNDP is, through an electoral cycle, based 2015‑2018 project called Supporting Electoral Processes in Kenya, supporting various Kenyan institutions to prepare for credible and peaceful general elections in August.  The project focuses on strengthening institutional and legal framework for the electoral process; increasing the participation of voters, parties and candidates in the electoral process with an emphasis of women, youth and people living with disabilities; promoting efficient and transparent and peaceful elections; and strengthening electoral justice.  The UN has also engaged the importance of peaceful and credible elections, both for the country and the region, by working consultation with regional organizations and the wider international community.

Correspondent:  I have a couple more.  Let's call it electoral day.  I wanted… okay, I'll do this one just because it follow up on what you said and I did appreciate… on this issue of the request by Diplocat, I did get an email saying, and I think among other things it said we have responded to it.  And I'm asking you because Diplocat has now contacted Inner City Press, and among other things, they say that they are actually still waiting for a response to their… it gets a little complicated.  They point out that they are not asking for it in connection with the referendum, but they are looking for a response.

Spokesman:  But, my understanding is that we did receive the letter, the letter was responded to, so they did, whether they received it or not, a letter of response was sent to them, so I don't know which postal service, which…

Correspondent:  Told them steps to take.

Spokesman:  Exactly, and I'm telling you the letter we received, that they asked how it could become an “endorser” of the 2005 Declaration of Principles for International Observation that sets out principles and a code of conduct to improve the practice of international electoral observation.  The Declaration is not a formal UN document but has been endorsed by the UN, as well as by other, by a number of other groups involved in electoral observation.  And it's important to clarify that the UN does not confirm the status of electoral observer nor does it certify observers, so that is the answer given to them.

Question:  And did you get anything more on the photo issue?  You said it's not normal…

Spokesman:  No, it's being dealt with with the AP.  Thank you.

Correspondent:  It seems to be more extensive and there are other cases.

Spokesman:  That’s why it's being dealt with.

For information media. Not an official record.